Skip advert
Advertisement

Michael Schumacher’s four-stop French GP - Motorsport Moments

The odds were against Schumacher and Ferrari at this 2004 race, but a clever and unexpected strategy call won the day

Formula 1 around 15 years ago had a very different feel to the sport today. There were still screaming V10 engines, we had a Michelin vs Bridgestone tyre war, the drivers faced the challenge of single-lap qualifying, and the races were all about flat-out sprints between refuelling stops in an attempt to gain track position on rivals.

Advertisement - Article continues below

Working together, Michael Schumacher, Ferrari and its tyre supplier Bridgestone had become masters of the art, and in 2004 the German arrived at the Circuit Nevers Magny-Cours for the French Grand Prix leading his team-mate Rubens Barrichello by 18 points in the championship, having won six of the season’s nine races up to that point.

Magny-Cours was a bit of a wildcard, however. Its extra-smooth surface favoured the Michelin tyres used by the Renault of Fernando Alonso – especially when it came to single-lap pace – and its flowing nature offered up few overtaking opportunities.

Ferrari’s strategic brains Ross Brawn and Luca Baldisseri had anticipated this, and cooked up a plan that would give their star driver as much time in clear air as possible, allowing the Ferrari F2004’s superior pace to win out over Alonso’s Renault R24.

As expected, Alonso took pole position ahead of Schumacher in qualifying and also kept the German behind him in the early stages of the race. While his Bridgestones got up to temperature, Schumacher could close on but not pass the Spaniard, so Ferrari pitted him for a short stop on lap 11 and Renault followed suit shortly afterwards.

The pattern repeated in the second stint of the race, with Alonso out front and the Ferrari closing up but not passing. Renault was on course to win if this continued, yet the gap to the third-place car was sufficient that Ferrari could now spring its surprise.

Advertisement - Article continues below
Skip advert
Advertisement
Skip advert
Advertisement - Article continues below

Schumacher pitted for a second time on lap 29, but only took on enough fuel for nine more laps. Renault assumed that Ferrari just wanted to get him ahead of Alonso in clean air before a long third stop to take on enough fuel to get to the end; that would leave Alonso on a lighter fuel load and fresher tyres towards the end, and easily able to overhaul Schumacher. Renault stuck to its three-stop strategy, but Ferrari’s  third stop was much faster than expected – there was no way Schumacher had enough fuel to make it to the chequered flag.

That meant he rejoined only around 20 seconds behind Alonso, who still had his final stop to make. When the Renault pitted, it rejoined behind Schumacher, but Alonso was now at the wheel of a heavier and thus slower car. With a clear track ahead of him, Schumacher was able to pull out enough of a gap to allow for a final ‘splash-and-dash’ stop without losing the lead to Alonso.

He crossed the line 8.3 seconds ahead of his rival in the end. Despite the trickery, the Ferrari was the faster car; Alonso and Renault admitted as much. But the clever strategy was needed to let Schumacher make the most of its superior pace with the tyres at their best, and he pulled it off.

What's is your favourite Formula One race? Let us know in the comments below...

Skip advert
Advertisement
Continue Reading
Skip advert
Advertisement

Recommended

Best speedsters: the top 9 roofless wonders for intensity and style
Best Speedsters - header image
Best cars & vans

Best speedsters: the top 9 roofless wonders for intensity and style

For some, these cars are the ultimate in no-compromise motoring, but would you splash out a fortune on one?
14 Apr 2024
First sighting of new Ferrari 812 replacement complete with V12 power
Ferrari 812 Successor - front
News

First sighting of new Ferrari 812 replacement complete with V12 power

Fiorano’s V12 will live on in another flagship grand tourer
21 Mar 2024
F1 ace Gerhard Berger’s £350,000 stolen Ferrari found after 30 years: Met police solve 1995 crime
Gerhard Berger Ferrari F512M - front
News

F1 ace Gerhard Berger’s £350,000 stolen Ferrari found after 30 years: Met police solve 1995 crime

Gerhard Berger’s Ferrari Testarossa has been found three decades after its theft from the Imola GP circuit
4 Mar 2024
F1 preview 2024: the longest ever Formula One season awaits
F1 - header
Features

F1 preview 2024: the longest ever Formula One season awaits

Our guide to all the teams and drivers for the the 2024 Formula One World Championship season
28 Feb 2024

Most Popular

New Volkswagen Golf 2024: facelifted hatchback icon on sale from 11 April
Facelifted Volkswagen Golf - front static
News

New Volkswagen Golf 2024: facelifted hatchback icon on sale from 11 April

The eighth-generation Golf has been given a mid-life refresh - just in time for the model’s 50th birthday
9 Apr 2024
New Skoda Kodiaq 2024 review - the do-it-all family SUV
Skoda Kodiaq 2024
In-depth reviews

New Skoda Kodiaq 2024 review - the do-it-all family SUV

The Kodiaq aims to be the do-it-all SUV for families and it largely succeeds. The driving experience isn’t the most exciting, but for a big, practical…
12 Apr 2024
Toyota Yaris vs Renault Clio 2024 twin test: hybrid supermini battle
Toyota Yaris vs Renault Clio E-Tech - front tracking
Car group tests

Toyota Yaris vs Renault Clio 2024 twin test: hybrid supermini battle

With more and more electrified rivals arriving, Toyota has given its hybrid-only Yaris a facelift. We put it up against Renault’s class-leading Clio.
13 Apr 2024